23 April 2017

Christy’s Hard Turn: “I’ve Just Got To Accept It.”

"I've Just Got To Accept It"

I went to Granville with Maria this morning to visit Christy, a Mansion resident now fighting to get home to the Mansion from many hospital visits and from a Granville, N.Y., nursing home called Indian River. It was very different from the atmosphere at the Mansion, I didn't see any smiles or hugs.

Christy is at a difficult crossroads. When I came into the room, she showed me the stuffed animal "Red, he is" named after Red,  who has visited Christy many times and her new baby doll.

Christy told me that she had lost consciousness four times in recent days and been rushed to the hospital each time, and no one has any idea what is happening to her or why.

Christy has given me permission to talk about her health, but I just don't have the heart, or really the right, to repeat all of the health issues she is struggling with, several very serious.  "I don't think I'm going to get back to the Mansion," she said, "I've got to accept it."

She believes she had a mini-stroke recently.

She has asked to be transferred to a nursing home closer to her family about an hour away.

This nursing home business is rough stuff for the Mansion residents, they all dread going to a nursing home, they all fight and work hard to stay mobile and self-sufficient so they can stay. Some are always fighting the block and their own bodies.

When I came, Christy was sitting up and in the process of writing letters back to the many good people who have been writing to her, her bed was filled with letters and with gifts – a baby doll for her collection, the stuffed animal Red, some books. She has to sit and sleep with a breathing monitor and mask.

Somebody also thoughtfully sent her some stamps, and at least a dozen letters had already been written and stamped and were ready to be sent out. (Christy will be at Indian River for a week or so,  you can write her c/o Indian River Rehabilitation Center, 17 Madison St., Granville,N.Y., 12832).

I want to stay in touch with Christy, but I can't really offer much help or be of much help  to her now other than to stay in contact with her. She and I e-mail and message one another faithfully, and I will stay connected to her in that way.

I've got to stay focused on the other work I am doing, both at the Mansion and in Albany. And I've got to stay bounded.

I gave her a hug when I left and told her to ask me for help if she needed it, and if I could help, I always would. She was happy to see Maria, she had not met her until today.

Christy has been on a very powerful journey and I am touched she has shared it with me, and has also wanted me to share it with  you. Living at the edge of life is always a challenge, every minute of every day. It is unpredictable, often sad and painful. Our culture is forever claiming to love and care for the elderly, but forever forgetting about them and failing to help them to live fully and in comfort and safety.

Sometimes I think they are drowning in too much technology and medicine, too many surgeries and procedures, many too thoughtlessly and reflexively practiced. They can get as many pills and ambulance rides as anyone could want, no chance to consider the quality of their life, let alone have a say in it.

The Mansion residents are brave and determined, but I know life is never simple or easy for them, and Christy's story is familiar to every one of them. It could be any one of them, any day.

Yet they inspire me, they live their lives and care for one another and look for the light wherever they can find it. They don't quit on life, even when it sometimes seem that life has quit on them.

I will be thinking of Christy and am so grateful to the good angels who have been encouraging her and cheering her on. You have made a very difficult time to much lighter, you have given Christy something to smile about every single day, and that is no small gift.

I am happy to shine something of a light on this world, and will keep at it.

Posted in General

Grandfather Chronicles: In America, Babies Are Safer, But Are They Better Off?

Nothing Is Simple

I am definitely not one to mourn for the good old days, nor do I think they can or should return. I do not believe my generation was smarter or better or superior to those that have followed me.

Being a grandfather has brought into focus how complex life is in America, for better or worse, how shaped by lawyers, law suits, government regulations, fears, phobias, rumors, hysteria.

And most especially,  by corporate institutions that seem to want to cover their asses  and make money more than serve people well.

I suppose Robin is safer than Emma was when she was a baby, because there are a million new regulations, alarms, cautions and hysterias surrounding the life of the baby. And then, there are nor mailing lists and social media, the best pathways for spreading alarm and misinformation the world has ever seen.

Life is very different for Robin than it was for Emma, or for me.

No toys of any kind are permitted in Robin's crib at night when she sleeps, per order of the pediatrician who warns of suffocation. Robin is not ever permitted to sleep on her stomach, nor is she covered with blankets. Both things are now considered dangerous.

She must, of course, travel in a car seat, although I was startled to get this enormous box in the mail, the seat is not all that different from the one an astronaut might strap him or herself into.

It is a major piece of hardware, and I am grateful I bought one so that Emma doesn't have to haul it with her from New York City.

The crib (and car seat and high chair) we ordered is festooned with caution and warning labels, a visitor from Mars would never let his baby into any crib given all the possible dangers listed on the package and in the stickers.

Interactions with strangers are closely monitored and discouraged.

When I took Robin out for a walk in New York City, I was surrounded by mothers and grandmothers from every corner of the earth who wanted to touch and hold her. How nice, I thought, this is how we socialize puppies, it must be equally important for babies. I passed her around.

It is not like it is for puppies.

A young mother took me aside in Brooklyn and said she could see that I was proud of Robin, but that I must never let anyone I didn't know touch her or hold her.  She was grave. She had heard a number of stories of babies snatched from their mothers arms and kidnapped right off of the street.

"We teach our kids that strangers are scary," she said. I didn't even want to mention this episode to my daughter, who finally relented and let me take the baby out for a walk by myself. I did think the experience said to me that we teach children of all ages to fear and avoid strangers, a very fraught lesson to then take into life.

I've been buying supplies for Robin's visit in a few weeks, and reading the reviews on Amazon about cribs, high chairs, toys and car seats. The fear and hysteria and blatant paranoia in these reviews is breathtaking, endless warnings about chemicals in mattresses, radioactive beams from baby monitors (very few babies in America will ever grasp or Intuit the idea of privacy.)

The absence of a monitor is considered almost criminal neglect, the camera and audio must be turned on all night while they sleep, the parents tap into them like addicts on a cell phone all throughout the evening. The monitor I ordered is on the way.)

The horror stories about babies and high chairs alone would leave many parents feeding their babies on the floor in a giant enclosed plastic bubble. I never thought of high chairs as being dangerous, just filthy all of the time. Reading the Amazon reviews, I think it's a miracle any baby survives past six months.

I am exhausted and edgy just from ordering these things, they are so many things to be aware of, and I imagine the writers who write all the warnings to cover their bosses corporate butts are doing well, I have a big pile of danger stickers warning about everything from fire to suffocation to getting caught between mattresses and crib bars to chemical vapors in mattress pads.

Strangers, it seems, are the least of it.

In the baby monitor reviews were a chronicle of mishaps, accidents, rumors, terror and extreme danger. There is no safe and happy world around any baby int the reviews on Amazon, or in any lawyer's office.

I happen to know from my journalism days that the kidnapping of babies (or children) by strangers as opposed to family members,  is one of the rarest crimes in American life, the odds are better of having an airplane fall out of the sky on top of them than being snatched by an unknown kidnapper.

Dangers facing babies are very real, so are false rumors, paranoia, misinformation and hysteria.

That most parents and pediatricians don't know that most strangers are not dangerous  is the inevitable outcome of a country whose cultural and social life and social communications are so often built on fear and warnings. Fear may be the biggest and most profitable industry in America, it keeps the corporate coffers full and the rest of us perpetually alarmed.

And babies are a driving force in the fear market, loving parents will do almost anything when told their children are not safe. I was wide-eyed at the $300 and $400 and very popular baby monitors that keep an eye on temperature, monitor breathing and pulse, listen for any kind of sound or dreaming.

The ads promise the highest cinematic quality and long range. Some even record the baby's sleeping for future reviewing.

Animals are also the subject of great fear and alarm.

Every time I put up a photo of a dog in a car window, I get messages from everywhere warning me about the dangers of dogs in cars, I know many dog lovers who no longer take their dogs with them anywhere for fear of being targeted by the armies of the anxious and the self-righteous, eager to smash car windows in parking lots to prove their dedication to animals.

One woman I know was hauled off in handcuffs in Saratoga Springs for leaving a dog in a care with the engine running and the AC on for five minutes while she ran into  dry cleaner's to pick up her cleaning.

It is good to make the loves of dogs and babies safer. It is madness to criminalize normal life. Soon, nobody will dare to take their dogs anywhere, I hear it all the time. Are dogs really better off for that?

This arrest and handcuffing was the law now, the abashed officers told this woman as her car was towed away and the dog taken to the city pound. Really? The law?

My daughter Emma is sane and well-informed, she is a wonderful mother, and she is careful about what she believes and doesn't believe, although she does pretty much everything the pediatrician suggests, as I did when she was a baby. She is, unlike her father, very sane in all things. But she is ordering diapers herself and mailing to me because she doesn't quite trust to get the right ones.

I don't recall every challenging her pediatrician or asking her to back up anything she ever said, and she said a lot of strange things.

I imagine – I can't say for sure – that babies are safer now than they used to be, protected from blankets and toys and all kinds of food and clothes and dangerous toys and cribs and high chairs, and unbuckled rides and strangers. What parent will look away when warned about the safety of their baby?

I am glad this is Emma's problem and not mine. I'm still recovering from ordering a crib, a high chair, a baby monitor and car seat. My nerves are shot, and I hope it all goes well when Robin comes to visit.

Yet if safety is gained, something else is also lost. If you look around at our culture, full of former babies and kids, there is an epidemic of phobia, fear and anger and so many people in our society seems to have lost the ability to talk to one another, everyone is a stranger to be feared or despised.

If you think it about, that really isn't all that surprising.  Fear is the revolutionary idea behind baby care.

If we are in fact safer now, I can't say I am convinced we are better off than we were, or that our babies and grandbabies are really healthier.

Posted in General

Might We Actually Take A Vacation?

Might We Actually Take A Vacation?

Well, a shocking idea has taken hold in the farmhouse. Maria and I are actually talking about taking a vacation in the Fall, after the October Open House.

In our decade together, we have taken a number of short and weekend trips, and two trips to Disney World under very divergent circumstances. The first was a desperate escape, it was a brutal winter and we both had just left long marriages and were in pieces. The second was a gift given to me by people in my online creative group after my Open Heart Surgery.

Disney World is fun, especially for kids, but I have to confess that I have outgrown it. It is frightfully expensive, insanely crowded and overbooked, and for us, anything but restful. Since then, we have not had anything like a real vacation and since both work all of the time, usually seven days a week, it is time.

We talked about Maine, but after browsing online for a bit, I told Maria is didn't feel like it was the right place for us.. – also very touristy, crowded and lobster-centric and crafts obsessed. And expensive.

We have often talked plaintively about taking a vacation together, but never mustered the will to do it.

I have always wanted to take Maria to Florence, and she has always wanted to take me to New Mexico. Since it has become more apparent every day that I will not be able to take Maria to Florence in this lifetime, I suggested we go to New Mexico. I am drawn to the desert, to seeing George O'Keefe's house, to taking photos.

She was thrilled, it was, I think, what she most wanted to do. We will try to learn to relax (I will blog from there at least once a day, sending photos in the early dawn) and stare out at the desert, visit museums, walk and read. We have found a wonderful hotel in a small village a couple of hours outside of Sante Fe.

There are very cheap flights and exotic and inexpensive places to stay.

We're thinking eight days. We will have all the requisite freaking out and money discussions, but it is a good thing to do, it is an essential part of being productive and creative and engaged with the world. Sometimes you just have to step outside of yourself and sometimes, you just need to relax, and let the body and mind re-charge.

This is hard for us to do, we feel guilty about taking trips, being away from the farm. We're also very excited by the idea.

We have a wonderful kennel nearby for the dogs, and good people to watch over the farm. Life is, in fact, short, and I will be dead for a long time. I think I'll love New Mexico, and Maria already does. Win-win.

So, barring some change of heart, I think we will do it in late October or November. Our first real vacation in some years. We both know it's something we want to do and need to do. I write a lot about mercy and empathy, I told Maria it is time to be merciful to ourselves.

Posted in General

The Changing Landscape

The Changing Landscape

I see my life is a landscape sometimes, and my job as a writer and an artist is to capture the changing landscape. This morning, I got up early (I try and let Maria sleep late on Sundays) to feed the animals and do the morning farm chores. I dragged out new high chair out, we assembled it last night for Robin who is coming in a month for a long weekend.

Friday, our house filled with boxes and crates – a crib, mattress, high chair and car seat, among other things. I want to have most things up here so that Emma doesn't have to bring them up from New York. She is fussy about the diapers, she is buying them online and shipping them here.

This is all a sign of the ever changing landscape, otherwise known as live. It has been many years since I assembled a crib and high chair or had one around. This is a part of my life now, and I welcome it and embrace it, as I try and do with change.

Because change is the landscape of our lives, and we either accept it or fight it or lament it, and that makes life a hard and joyless slog. I often tell myself in the morning that I am on the earth for a very short time, and I will be dead for a very long time,a and I do not intend to spend a minute of it speaking poorly or my life on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else.

I moved the high chair all around before I found the right spot to photograph it, I'll do the same thing for the car seat once we get it out of the box later today.

Posted in General